•Insists terrorists no longer collect taxes, install, sack emirs
Nseobong Okon-Ekong and Dike Onwuamaeze
The federal government yesterday highlighted the major achievements of the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari in 2019, against the background of what it described as the continuing efforts by the opposition to deny the steady progress being made by the administration in all sectors, even in the face of dwindling resources.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, told reporters at the year-ending press conference in Lagos, that the administration had recorded giant strides in tackling insecurity, growing the economy, building infrastructure and fighting corruption.
He said the military stepped up the fight against terrorism in 2019, despite the fact that they were not just fighting the rump of Boko Haram but also the Islamic State’s West African Province (ISWAP).
He said: “Yes, they occasionally attack soft targets from the fringe islands in Chad, where they have been confined by our troops, but they don’t hold any territory like they did before the advent of this administration, when they hoisted their flag in their Bama Caliphate, collected taxes, as well as removed and installed emirs. They no longer have such capabilities.
“The successful attacks they carried out in Abuja and other cities are now a thing of the past. The terrorists’ recent attempt to attack soft targets in Damaturu, the Yobe State capital, and Biu in Borno State, were repelled by the military, with the terrorists suffering heavy casualties.”
The minister urged Nigerians not say or do anything to demoralise the troops who are fighting to keep the country safe, saying that even Christmas and New Year when other citizens are with their families celebrating the holidays, they are in the trenches to keep the country safe.
Mohammed also stated that with a multi-dimensional approach, the incessant farmers-herders clashes across the country, as well as banditry and kidnapping, have been reduced to the barest minimum.
He described the closure of the land borders, which he called border drill, as one of the boldest decisions ever taken by any administration in Nigeria.
The minister clarified that it was not border closure, but border drill, as the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) and Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS), in collaboration with the Armed Forces of Nigeria (AFN) as well as the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) and other security and intelligence agencies, commenced a joint border security exercise, code-named ‘Exercise Swift Response’, in four geopolitical zones of the country, namely; South -south, South-west, North-central and North-west on August 20.
He said the exercise was being coordinated by the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) to better securing the borders in order to strengthen the economy and address other trans-border security concerns such as banditry, kidnapping, smuggling, illegal immigration and proliferation of light weapons.
He added that the country’s preference for foreign goods, especially food items like rice, had continuously impoverished farmers and adversely affected domestic government policies supporting the agricultural sector to enhance food security.
Mohammed noted that with the border drill, Nigeria is closer to attaining self-sufficiency in rice production than at any time in the country’s history.
According to him, before the drill, there were 12.2 million rice farmers in Nigeria, but now six million people, mostly youths, are venturing into rice production.
“The border drill has curbed the smuggling of rice and other prohibited items into the country, led to significant seizures with estimated monetary value of over N3.5 billion; reduced local fuel consumption by 30 per cent and reduced the importation of arms, ammunition and drugs,” he explained.
He said the drill had also made it difficult for terrorists and other criminals to procure arms and ammunition while criminal elements no longer make their way into the country through the land borders, thus resulting in reduced cases of insecurity.
Besides, the Nigeria Customs Service that was recording about N4.5 billion revenue daily before the drill is now generating between N5 billion and N8 billion daily.
On the economy, the minister stated that it has continued to witness a strong performance, building on the steady recovery seen since the last recession.
According to him, in 2019, the economy grew at an average rate of 2.2 per cent over the first three quarters, compared to 1.7 per cent over the same period in 2018.
He also added that both the oil and non-oil sectors performed considerably better in 2019 than in 2018.
The oil sector, he said, grew at an average of four per cent over the three quarters, compared to 2.4 per cent in 2018, while the non-oil sector grew by two per cent, compared to 1.7 per cent in 2018.
Mohammed said the average daily oil production level rose to its highest in the last three years, reaching two million barrels per day (mbpd) in 2019, compared to 1.8 mbpd in 2016, and 1.9 mbpd in both 2017 and 2018.
Also, the year-on-year headline inflation rate declined steadily from 15.1 per cent in January 2018 to 11.9 per cent in November 2019, while year-on-year core inflation rate slowed from 12.1 per cent to nine per cent between January last year and November this year.
Year-on-year food inflation rate also decreased from 18.9 per cent in January 2018 to 14.5 per cent in November 2019.
The minister said the strong performance in the external sector suggested increasing diversification of exports and export revenue with the value of imports in 2019, as at the third quarter, standing at N11.6 trillion, compared to N9.6 trillion as at third quarter of 2018, representing an annual growth rate of 21 per cent between 2018 and 2019.
Speaking on federal government expenditure, he stated that as at half-year 2019, out of the total appropriation of N8.9 trillion for 2019, about N3.4 trillion had been spent.
He also noted concerns in certain circles about the country’s growing debt, both domestic and external, saying that there have been some misrepresentations and scare mongering.
Mohammed added that Nigeria’s total public debt stock in 2015 was $63.80 billion, comprising $10.31 billion of external debt and $53.49 billion domestic debt.
“By June 2019, the total debt stock was $83.883 billion, made up of $27.163 billion of external debt and $56.720 billion domestic debt.
“It is therefore not correct to say that Nigeria’s external debt alone is $81.274 billion. There is yet no cause for alarm. This is because Nigeria has a debt ceiling of 25 per cent in the total public debt stock to Gross Domestic Product (Debt/GDP), which it has operated within.
The ratio for December 31, 2018 and June 30, 2019 were 19.09 per cent and 18.99 per cent, respectively. The debt service to revenue ratio has however been higher than desirable, hence the push by the government to diversify the economy and increase oil and non-oil revenues significantly. The government is also widening the tax base to capture more tax-paying citizens,” he explained.
According to him, in the face of massive infrastructural decay, no responsible government will sit by and do nothing.
“This administration’s borrowing, therefore, is aimed at revamping our infrastructure, including roads, bridges, railways, waterways and power, to help unleash the potential of the nation’s economy. The loans for the educational sector will contribute to the development of our human capital while the loans for the agricultural sector will help the move to diversify the economy,” he added.
He also said as at the third quarter of 2019, total capital importation had reached nearly $420 billion, as against the $15 billion recorded for the first three quarters of 2018.
He also described the January-December new budget cycle as a major achievement of the administration.
On the anti-graft war, Mohammed said it was progressing on all fronts, including institutional reforms, loot recovery and prosecution of alleged corrupt persons.
To curb wastages, he said the president had directed that all public-funded travels (local and foreign), must be strictly for official purposes backed with documentary evidence.
He also noted that President Buhari, in a landmark move, signed into law the amended Deep Offshore Bill, so that Nigeria will now receive its fair, rightful and equitable share of income from its natural resources for the first time since 2003.
The minister also described as fake news, an allegation attributed to Senator Francis Fadahunsi that he was behind the Hate Speech Bill at the National Assembly and that the senator who is sponsoring the bill is fronting for him.